Monday, June 28, 2010

"The Longer the Beard..."

I once read that the late swAmI cinmayAnanda said, "Don't just believe what I say, but test it for yourself. The longer the beard, the more should be your suspicion!" His beard went almost to his waist.

But swAmI was not talking about beards, of course. He was making reference to the breadth of a teaching and how the devil (and not only the angel) is in the details.

Spiritual teaching is worthwhile when it actually helps. The point is to say what is correct in a way that leaves a constructive impression.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Ben & the Atma

My friend Joanne has the fattest cat I have thus far had the pleasure of meeting. His name is Ben. After modeling for a number of paintings, Joanne mentioned that Jamie and me might visit so I could sketch her cats. Here is a sketch of Ben from that session.

Afterwards, I used the sketch to create this painting.

I often use sketching as a way to gather information which I may be able to use in paintings later.

On the spiritual path, various forms of sAdhanA are similar to sketching. It does not make us what we already are. Yet it opens a way for us to realize Atma-brahman and, on that basis, live a vibrant and beautiful life.

Saturday, June 26, 2010


some attempt to
the ego
through intense

and others by
indulging or grooming

and still others
by all-out

dear friend won’t you
rub a little
dust from the guru’s feet
on your forehead

the cure for
these mad ailments is
devotion to Ishvara

The jagadguru's Simple Wish

Once when SrI abhinava vidyA tIrtha of Sringeri was wishing to observe an insect that had burrowed into the ground, he poked a small hole in a leaf and placed a drop of water over it to create a magnifying glass.

It might have been easy for him to pass on his way, since he did not have a magnifying glass. However, SrI abhinava was focused on his intention to the degree that he was able to creatively use the resources available to fulfill his simple wish.

This is an excellent example for anyone.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Slow like Miró

On Wednesday Jamie and I visited the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art. While purchasing our tickets, we opted to take along the complementary audio guide.

Near the end of the exhibit is a magical work. The audio guide explains how while Hans and Bessie Bechtler were visiting Joan Miró, they admired a rag the artist was using to clean his brushes and offered to purchase it. The artist declined, saying he still needed it.

Later, Miró sent the rag to Hans and Bessie as a gift, along with a warm note and some display instructions. Miró had transformed the rag into a beautiful work of art simply by adding a slightly curving black line and his signature.

In the spirit of Slow, Miró did only what was essential. On the spiritual path, we often try to do so many things, when we only need the essentials of knowledge, devotion and goodness.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Cultivating Spiritual Kinship

In his new book Toward a True Kinship of Faiths, His Holiness the Dalai Lama includes a beautiful chapter on Hinduism. His Holiness discusses his many friendships with contemporary Hindu teachers and saints.

Most notably, he mentions his friendship with the late swAmI cinmayAnanda, who was a close neighbor to Dharmasala. swAmI was among the teachers who taught His Holiness about j~nAna, bhakti, karma, and rAja yoga.

Although the other chapters are also wonderful, His Holiness' chapter on Hinduism alone is worth the price of this book, as its joyfulness, simplicity and depth are a testament to the benefits of cultivating spiritual kinship.

Monday, June 21, 2010


two eyes look
into time and
into eternity

get to know
this other
eye by
training it on
the words of
the wise

worldly words
are trained
on rUpa
while wise words
are spilling

go to
the twilight entrance
and lose yourself
the way
nectar is lost to
gushing honeycomb

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

j~nAna yoga & Slow Thinking

j~nAna yoga is the yoga of knowledge. Only this knowledge is not intellectual in the conventional manner. Rather it is intuitive or, we might say, intellective (in the Platonic sense).

To acquire this knowledge one follows the triple method of shravaNa, manana and nididhyAsana, or hearing vedAnta teaching from a qualified teacher, reflecting upon it and assimilating it.

Although this method is not haphazard; neither is neat and tidy. It is organic. It dawns in the mind in a manner interdependent with our particular vAsAna load. It can not be forced. It has to be natural.

According to Carl Honoré "Slow Thinking is intuitive, woolly and creative. It is what we do when the pressure is off, and there is time to let ideas simmer on the back burner. It yields rich, nuanced insights and sometimes surprising breakthroughs."

I believe there is some resonance between j~nAna yoga and Slow Thinking.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Inviting the Soul

Near the beginning of his poem Song of Myself Walt Whitman writes, "I loafe and invite my soul, I lean and loafe at my ease observing a spear of summer grass."

What is the soul?

In Western thought, the soul is a higher dimension within. Since the Atma is not a dimension, the corresponding idea in advaita is jIva. Only the jIva is not a portion of the individual; rather the jIva is the totality of an individual as he or she is made manifest by Ishvara.

According to taittirIya upanishad, this total manifestation is comprised of five koshas. These are annamayakosha, praNAmayakosha, manomayakosha, vijnAnmayakosha, and Anandamayakosha, which is to say body, praNA, mind, intellect, and spirit.

Ishvara is the face of brahman nirguNa. Similarly the jIva is the face of Atma.

By inviting the soul one is inviting the Whole.

Giving Problems Time

Whenever there is a problem, it is common for many of us to jump into action, hoping to resolve it. But since problems are natural, we often set in motion actions that result in still more problems.

I have noticed, however, that problems often stay at a minimum when I don't try immediately to resolve most of them, and this applies to big problems as well.

The core problem for spiritual seekers is of not yet being enlightened. Why try so hard to resolve it?

The bigger a problem is for us, the greater the disappointment when efforts fail.

our white door at night -
the slugs that have gathered here
will leave by morning

Delicate the Toad

The poet Robert Francis was born on August 12, 1901 and graduated from Harvard University in 1923. He lived in a small house he built himself in 1940, which he called Fort Juniper.

Mentored by Robert Frost, Mr. Francis wrote superbly crafted, deeply personal poems, often about nature. He died on July 13, 1987.

While most everyone knows of Emily Dickinson, Robert Francis was the "other" hermit-poet from Amherst, Massachusetts.

In 1965 Francis published a collection titled Come Out Into the Sun. The following is a poem from this volume.

And, if I may suggest, read it aloud. Although this poem is not specifically about advaita vedAnta, you might be pleasantly surprised at the sound of your own flute.

Delicate the toad
Sits and sips
The evening air.

He is satisfied
With dust, with
Color of dust.

A hopping shadow
Now, and now
A shadow still.

Laugh, you birds
At one so
Far from flying

But have you
Caught, among small
Stars, his flute?

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Self & Image

I have enjoyed making art since the age of seven. It all began when my father and I sat at the kitchen table and he showed me how to draw a plane flying at an angle and the profile of a person standing, for a school assignment.

My grade was excellent, but that was only icing. Since then, making art has grown into a way of meditating on life and existence. The paintings and drawings are the tracks, the fading notes of a vast and edgeless inner music.

Here is a recent portrait of Jamie and I. We are not in the painting physically; and yet, friends who know us swear they can see us both.

Of course there is nothing strange about this. Each of us is present in a manner than can not be reduced to ideas or words. Nor can it be reduced to images.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Switching to Decaf

Until September of last year, I was drinking numerous cups of coffee each day. People would comment on my easy-going disposition despite all the caffeine.

This didn't last. Gradually I began to notice how agitated I was feeling and it was time to quit.

With ninety percent of adults consuming it, caffeine is the most widely used psychoactive substance and is legal and unregulated nearly everywhere. It is the drug of choice for our time-sick, speed-focused society.

When faster leads to faster still, everyone needs a boost just to keep pace. By stepping from this cruel hamster wheel, it is easier to quit acceptable addictions.

What Never Changes

Professor Guttorm Fløistad summarizes Slow philosophy this way:

The only thing for certain is that everything changes. The rate of change increases. If you want to hang on you better speed up. That is the message of today. It could however be useful to remind everyone that our basic needs never change. The need to be seen and appreciated! It is the need to belong. The need for nearness and care, and for a little love! This is given only through slowness in human relations. In order to master changes, we have to recover slowness, reflection and togetherness. There we will find real renewal.

advaita points to what never changes regardless of changes. Many aspects of Slow living are harmonious with classical vedAnta for exemplifying sattva guNa.

Friday, June 11, 2010

The Value of Shade

Every Wednesday Jamie and I spend the day doing something we enjoy. Usually we slip away from town for some hiking and exploring.

Since Jamie was not feeling well this week, we stayed in town and wandered the trails of a local park. Later we decided to go over to the lake and relax. While sitting on a bench, I was dozing off and Jamie started feeling sleepy as well. So we moved to a bench that accommodated us both.

Later we woke up incredibly thirsty, because this other bench was not shaded. Although Jamie was unfazed, I still have a bit of heat exhaustion typing this post, despite drinking sixty-four ounces of Gatorade to restore electrolyte balance.

What this has me thinking about is the value of staying in the shade of time-honored wisdom, which is rooted in prasthAna traya.


In his book The One-Straw Revolution, Masanobu Fukuoka up-ends the commercial approach to farming by demonstrating, through natural farming, that many aspects of the commercial approach are extraneous. For example, rather than saturating his crops with chemicals, Mr. Fukuoka would simply mulch with straw.

Perhaps the most radical idea of natural farming is no-digging. Jamie has a garden out in the yard and she follows many of Mr. Fukuoka’s recommendations. When she is planting in a new spot, however, she calls me out to dig.

I am sympathetic to this radical idea, since an advaita teacher is focused on sewing seeds of goodness and pointing to what is. No digging is necessary.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Abiding Peace

Our minds can be frenetic. This is not a fault so much as a disposition that comes with birth as a result of mAyA and its effects.

vedAnta teachings tell us there is more to being incarnate than meets the eye. We have not only a physical body but also a subtle and a causal body.

Our causal body is the soil out of which the particulars of our subtle and physical bodies manifest. And this soil is filled with many different kinds of seed-like vAsanAs. Some are good and some are less than good. It is the manifestation of less than good which creates frenzy.

To rise above frenzy we change our ground dynamic. The way is simple: we cultivate goodness and follow the teachings of the wise. Such wise teachings point to essential Truth, encouraging us to discover the light of Consciousness already shinning.

It is steady realization "I am Consciousness", due to awakening of the akhaNDAkAra vRRitti, that results in abiding peace of mind and heart.